Russia’s defense minister has visited troops near the front line in the partially occupied region of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, according to a statement issued by the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday.

Zaporizhzhia region, about half of which is occupied by Russian forces considered a likely focus of Ukraine’s threatened counter-offensive.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its top official, Sergei K. Shoigu, inspected a forward command post in the Zaporizhzhia area, where he was briefed on the “current situation” and “combat tasks performed by Russian troops.” A video accompanying the statement on Telegram’s messaging app showed Mr Shoigu walking through a field of underground concrete tunnels, meeting commanders and pinning a medal on a soldier.

The ministry did not specify when or exactly where the visit took place. Like in March, when the ministry said that he visited Donbas region in eastern Ukraine Details of Mr Shoigu’s trip could not be independently verified.

It comes as Ukrainian officials have said preparations for their counteroffensive are in their final stages, and amid growing signs of concern over campaign among Russian pro-war military bloggers. In recent weeks, the Russian occupation authorities in more than a dozen towns and villages in the Zaporizhzhia region issued “mandatory” evacuation ordersciting intensified fighting.

Some of the war’s deadliest fighting in recent months has involved Russian attempts to capture the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces have made progress in the past week north and south of the city, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of Wagner’s private military company that has led much of the Bakhmut offensive, claimed that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was already “in full swing.”

Mr Prigozhin, known for his outspoken and often self-serving commentary, said last week that Ukrainian forces were set to attack Mr Wagner’s forces in and around Bakhmut first and then move on to target Zaporizhzhia.

In its statement on Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Shoigu had ordered commanders to “conduct extensive reconnaissance” to uncover Ukraine’s plans “in advance and prevent their implementation.”